Marxist-Humanist organization and philosophy

May 6, 2015

From the May-June 2015 issue of News & Letters

Draft for Marxist-Humanist Perspectives, 2015-2016
Decaying social order shows need for philosophy, revolution



I.    Black Lives Matter

II.  Things fall apart 

A. Arab Spring: Revolution and war
B. Economic weakness and shifts in global politics
C. Whiff of fascism

III. Greek masses in peril

IV.  Marxist-Humanist organization and philosophy

…Continued from Part III

IV. Marxist-Humanist organization & philosophy

Thus, with eyes of today we revisit those 60 years as newspaper, as organization, as philosophy. The question is how this history speaks to the revolutionary needs of the age.

Visit the News & Letters website: and leave a comment after an article and start a conversation.

Visit the News & Letters website: and leave a comment after an article and start a conversation.

In the 1950s, Marxism and Freedom anticipated both the Black revolution of the 1960s and the beginning of the end of Russian totalitarianism, when the book singled out the Montgomery Bus Boycott as a new stage related to the new stage in the Hungarian Revolution’s workers’ councils, and saw both as world phenomena. And as we approach the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, let us recall the importance of News and Letters Committees’ work on Bosnia, as seen in Bosnia-Herzegovina: Achilles Heel of Western ‘Civilization.’ Specifically for today’s situation:

“…the new that this organization dug out, philosophically and not only politically, in the meaning of the incredibly persistent demand to keep a multi-ethnic society alive. Without grasping that, the illumination Bosnia sheds on all of our work, especially our work right here at home, gets lost. It is not a question of ‘liberalism’ or simply judging all events by their ‘multi-ethnic character,’ as some seem to think. On Jan. 14 [1996] we put the question of our effort to ‘universalize the lessons of the freedom struggle in Bosnia’ squarely as proof of our perspective of opposing today’s retrogression ‘by bringing philosophy to bear on reality in a new way.’ Which did not mean ‘ab novo’ but as grounded in the methodology Dunayevskaya had worked out as distinctly Marxist-Humanist. The question, whether in Bosnia or right at home, is the relation of Subjects of revolt to philosophy and the role of a group like us in working out that triangular relationship needed to overcome the terrible retrogression today. Though that took the form of outright genocide in Bosnia, what was demanded was not only a defense of the Bosnians as victims, but finding with whom we could ally as subjects who could help to uproot today’s whole degenerate society.”[1]

As much as Europe’s rising Left parties represent a newness in organization that is not new but rather a new form of the old—essentially Lassallean—concept, the Marxist-Humanist concept of philosophy and organization is rooted in Marx but is a concept that could not have found expression until our age.

That begins with the philosophic moment of Marxist-Humanism in Raya Dunayevskaya’s 1953 “Letters on Hegel’s Absolutes” (reprinted in the Sept.-Oct. 2014, Nov.-Dec. 2014 and Jan.-Feb. 2015 issues of N&L). Their plunge into philosophy found a new basis for revolutionary organization in Hegel’s absolute negativity, or negation of the negation. There she singled out the need to go beyond transitions to the need for “a new revolt in which everyone experiences absolute liberation.”

With that vantage point, the letters conclude with her philosophical breakthrough making a category of the movement from practice to theory and to the new society, with practice being “implicitly the Idea” and in that way a form of theory. That dual movement would not be complete without the movement from practice being met by the movement from theory to practice and to philosophy, so that Hegel’s climactic statement that “it is the nature of the fact, the notion, which causes the movement and development, yet this same movement is equally the action of cognition” became for Dunayevskaya a philosophical anticipation of the new society with the end of the division between mental and manual labor.

The entire development of Marxist-Humanism centers on concretization of the breakthrough achieved in the 1953 “Letters on Hegel’s Absolutes.” Spelling this out as the total uprooting of the old and the creation of new human relations, in concrete relationship to struggles for freedom in practice and in theory, is at the heart of projecting Marxist-Humanism, and therefore of its organizational life.

While Dunayevskaya lived, she continually sought to develop and concretize the philosophic moment of Marxist-Humanism in an organizational expression, including the quest for growth of News and Letters Committees as organization. Organization is a crucial catalyst for social revolution not only succeeding in overthrowing the old order but continuing the dialectic of second negation until an entirely new human foundation for society is established.

This year the foremost task flowing from that is organizational growth. We have left that altogether too abstract. For Marxist-Humanism it does not mean recruitment in the sense of the vanguard parties. But that does not allow us the excuse to substitute the aim of growth, or self-development, of those who are already members, as important as that is, for the need to project Marxist-Humanism in so concrete a way as to open doors to self-development and revolution for people who do not yet know that they need to walk through those doors. It is as crucial to have a thriving Marxist-Humanist organization as it is to engage in the battle of ideas. Organization building cannot be separated from development of theory, concretization of philosophy, which is what concrete projection requires.

Therefore part of our discussion of perspectives must be how concretely we intervene in ongoing movements. Our dialogue in the Black Lives Matter movement is not limited to noting the racist character of U.S. capitalism, in which the criminal injustice system’s violent, systemic racism is rooted. We show that the history of this racism and its economic roots is also the history of the revolt against it, with Black masses as vanguard, and the history of freedom ideas so powerful as to pave a two-way road between Abolitionism and Marx, and one between U.S. revolt and African revolutions. Philosophy is no less indispensable than activism for the movement to result in the kind of fundamental transformation needed.

In relation to the movement of and in support of prisoners, printing the voices of prisoners speaking for themselves adds an essential dimension to ideas of what is inhuman about this society and what it would take to become truly human. We aim this year to deepen the philosophical dimension and two-way nature of our dialogue with prisoners.

Our dialogue in solidarity with freedom struggles abroad such as that in Syria highlights both the truths that are not revealed in the mainstream media and the philosophical developments that are integral to the struggle. This year we will increase our efforts to deepen those struggles’ relationship to our organization and its philosophy, so as to unleash the self-determination of the idea needed to make self-determination real.

Unseparated from that is the needed international growth of Marxist-Humanist organization, first of all in Mexico, where our co-thinkers created an organization and have begun publishing Praxis en América Latina as a printed newspaper in Spanish.

This year we will use our newspaper, our new and improved website, and the forthcoming web availability of the Raya Dunayevskaya Archives, “Marxist-Humanism: A Half-Century of Its World Development,” to enable more people across the world to encounter not only Marxist-Humanist ideas but the organization rooted in them, so that organization can truly be the individual’s relationship to revolution.

For the point of it all is to uproot this racist, sexist, heterosexist, class-divided, alienated society and establish a new, human society.

—The Resident Editorial Board, April 15, 2015

[1] Olga Domanski, presentation to the Resident Editorial Board meeting of Feb. 12, 1996.

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